Preaching an original Christmas sermon is challenging.
The Christmas story has been preached so many times, we're tempted to believe there's nothing new to say. The Scripture, the music, the movies, and the sermons we've heard or preached year after year seem to sum up the season quite nicely.
Or do they?
Our Christian story has unfathomable depth.
As with any good story, every re-reading and every re-telling of Scripture has the opportunity to offer something new.
Not because the text has changed, but because we have changed, our listeners have changed, and our world has changed.
No matter how familiar we are with the journey to Bethlehem, the too-full inn, the manger, the shepherds, and the bright star guiding the wise men, we can experience the miracle of the incarnation anew.
How do we approach the Christmas story with new eyes?
First, slow down. Re-engage the text with a sense of anticipation. Still your spirit long enough to listen.
Can you hear the labor pains? The baby crying? The father laughing. The angels singing?
Then. Ask these 5 questions as you prep your Christmas sermon this year:
1. What does it mean for God to be born into the world today?
Where would Jesus be born today? Perhaps a stable behind an inn. Perhaps a storeroom in Target between shifts. Does the story translate into a modern scenario? What if it does? What if it doesn't? What would it look like if the story happened exactly the way it first did, but in our time?
Try re-writing or "translating" the story into our 21st century reality. What do you discover?
2. What does the Christmas story look like from a different point of view?
Look at all the characters who appear in the story: Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, the angels and shepherds, the wise men, the animals. How does the story open up when we assume the perspective of these different characters?
- How does their position in the world and the story color their perception of this event?
- What were their expectations? Why?
- How did this birth defy or fulfill their expectations?
Consider all the senses as you explore their experiences: what did the characters hear? smell? touch? taste? see? not see? What was it like for the angels to sing of God's arrival on earth? Why were the shepherds sleepy the next day?
Is there anyone behind the scenes or "offstage" who might offer perspective? Did the inn's employees have to work an extra shift? Did the innkeeper's daughter overhear the young couple being turned away and sneak out later to bring them a meal? Was there someone in the village who couldn't sleep and caught a glimpse of a beautiful star?
3. The birth of Jesus in the world was a great paradigm shift. Where is that paradigm shifting today?
Light in the darkness. Vulnerability as power. God in flesh. The arrival of peace in a vast world of loud, incessant noise.
4. A birth story is a story of our origins. Where do we come from? Who is our family?
We live in a world that seems to divide itself into smaller and smaller groups and identities: you are my kind of people, and you are not. Isolation is a real danger.
Jesus is born to a mother who is between families—not quite married but bearing a son. A son who is not related by blood to his father. And yet, this holiday family is the basic unit of our faith.
What does this mean for us? How do we find unity in ambiguity? How do we reconfigure our notion of who is "one of us"?
5. What does the Christmas story mean to us in cosmic terms? How is God shaking up our world?
Every year, Jesus is born. Every year, God is radically shifting the power of the universe. Where do we see evidence of God being born on this night/morning, in this year, in these circumstances?
How can the events in this world be understood as God shaping it? What does the lens of love see?
As you prepare to deliver your sermon this Christmas, let these questions guide your wonder and curiosity until you've found one new angle or detail that opens the story anew.
You may hear God saying something you've never heard before.
if you'd like to prepare your Christmas sermon in community—with time for instruction, discussion, feedback, and prayer—join our Christmas Bootcamp.